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The hoarding minimalist

I may be able to trim down a bit, but I'll never be no minimalist.

Miss Minimalist's capsule wardrobe

I was reading the Miss Minimalist blog the other day. 

I like Miss Minimalist and enjoyed her book The Joy of Less, though I do also find myself shaking my head and thinking: ooh, you're very young, aren't you? (No proper seating, only floor cushions? - try that in a draughty medieval farmhouse on a stone-cold terracotta floor when you've got arthritis, love...). 

Anyway, the other day I read a blog of hers about a capsule wardrobe - see pic.  I like her style a lot, but as she fully admits, it won't suit everyone's life, and sadly it wouldn't come near suiting mine - it's too smart and would get dirty too quickly. But it set me thinking about my wardrobe and why it's not quite as streamlined as I would like (this is a slight understatement). 

At this time of year, I pretty much live in the following:
* Climate Control thermal underwear, consisting of the Five Seasons Superwoman poloneck top and longjohns.
* Corrymoor socks.
* Fleece polonecks from Lands' End. 
* Pull-on bootcut denim jeggings from British Home Stores. 
* Uggs. 

If the day's a bit colder, I'll top that with a fleece gilet. If it's a bit warmer, I might wear a cashmere polo instead, and in milder weather I lose the thermals and just wear the jeggings with a long t-shirt, with or without a gilet or a long cardi on top. 

I can get away - just - with wearing the same jeggings and top all week if I had to, though both would be pretty grubby. But the thermal top needs changing every single day (this is why I have six sets, plus other types of thermals). Does Miss Minimalist not sweat, I wonder? 

However, cleanliness aside, major problem arises because I'm a tad schizophrenic about clothes and also I do love a bit of variety.  In summer, I love a flowery linen dress, but with the weather so unpredictable, I'm still often in jeggings and a teeshirt (always long-sleeved and I've recently thrown out all my short-sleeved ones).

But the jeggings aren't really smart enough to go into town with, so I also have proper jeans - these days most have been dyed navy. But the jeans aren't comfortable enough for working at a desk in, so once I'm home, it's back to jeggings. Or Kiwis, if the weather's colder. Or fleece-lined trousers if it's bitter. 

In summer, meanwhile, I might fancy a sleeveless top, but my arms are past it, so that entails another clothing layer of cardigans, shrugs and wotnot, especially since hot flushes mean layering is essential - I like a cardi that I can undo and get some air in there (far better than a teeshirt). And a dress and cardigan both need to be changed every day or again, they get frankly stinky. 

Shoes are a now nightmare - a constant compromise between what I can actually wear with my whisper-thin soles (Crocs, Uggs, walking shoes from companies like Columbia) and what I'd like to wear (my 3in pink suede stilettos from Laura Ashley). And just try finding an elegant, comfortable shoe that you can wear with a dress - all summer long I live in FlyFlot sandals, which fortunately suit my casual life. 

But I also look at Miss Minimalist's wardrobe and think: doesn't your life contain more variety than this? She admits this selection doesn't include specialist clothes (swimming, hiking, etc) but where are the clothes for parties or for slobbing out at home, for instance? If I wore the same clothes at home as for going out, I'd be done for - my home clothes get covered in animal hair, fire ash and mud pretty regularly, whereas I do try hard to keep my 'going out' clothes a bit cleaner and smarter. In fact, I use my rare occasions of lunch out or my writers group meeting to wear precisely the things that I can't wear at home - such as blouses or v-neck sweaters (both too cold in this stone house, even in summer).

However, the big no-no that stands between me and the idea of true minimalism is that I would just get bored to death by a wardrobe this small, to be honest. I've tried the two-colour idea, and the one-colour idea, and the tonal idea and none of them is me. I hate looking the same every single day, and I do find too that ringing the changes with accessories doesn't quite work for me as they get in the way - I loathe rings and bracelets, and can't be doing with necklaces or scarves flapping about the place, so my basics have to do the duty of accessories.  

Oh dear.  

Even Miss Minimalist's indulgences are modest - her turquoise wellies, for instance. But here, I have two pairs - one for winter (neoprene lined, dark green, heavy) and one for summer (bright yellow and lightweight). Neither pair could possibly do duty for the wrong season - believe me, I've tried.

With a wardrobe quite this minimal, how do you cope when you don't wake up in a 'black' mood? Some days I feel bright, and want to wear red or turquoise or orange, and other days I feel quiet and want to wear beige or grey. It would feel wrong, all wrong, to have to dress in the wrong colour - I had enough of dressing like someone else when I had an office job. 

And finally there's the difference between what suits you and what suits your life. My soul may be girly and all powder pink and baby blue, but that would last about five minutes in our brown water, or when when wood chopping or looking after animals, so the backbone of my wardrobe remains navy (black being too harsh for the country).

Oh la. The wonder is that one ever manages to get dressed at all...   

One good tip I picked up from the comments on her blog, though, was to try Icebreaker t-shirts which are in merino and elasthane. Apparently you can get away with two, just alternating them all week, as they're antibacterial and don't smell. At 69 dollars a pop, that would be a hell of an indulgence, but it's certainly a solution to the stack-of-not-quite-right-t-shirts problem.

And with that, I'm off to somehow get dressed. So, what to wear for a day that involves cleaning the house, moving furniture, a trip to the skip, recyling, making lunch, and doing hair and makeup for a glam photo shoot? Jeggings it is, then...



Dressing for grown-ups, part one

Your 40s is the decade to upgrade your choice of fabric and cut.

Beige Trench

Dressing well shouldn't be simply a matter of weight, and it shouldn't simply be a matter of age either. We're all aware that a 40 or 50-year old can't dress like a teenager - that's just plain sad. But once you hit 30, I reckon, you can start developing a personal style that can take you, with annual updates, through the rest of your life.

So what should it be based on? Here are some handy 'rules' - rules in the sense of 'for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise women'...

1 Dress like a grown-up

You are not a little girl any more, so knock off the ruffles and bows and all the cutesy, ditsy stuff. Shorty ra-ra skirts, itsy-bitsy little tops, girly prints, t-shirts with bunnies on or 'sexy' sayings. These are no longer for you. Instead, look for reserved, adult clothing with some structure and shape to it. Long sleeves on tops, long legs on trousers, whatever necklines are most flattering for you personally, clothing without bells and whistles, classic block colours - black, white, navy, cream and good neutrals. Build your wardrobe around these items and then add your own twist and flair.

Beige shift dress

2 Keep it covered

I don't mean nun-like, but in general, follow the 30 per cent rule - only show 30 per cent of your body at any one time, even for evening. Now is the time to look like a woman who's actually getting sex, rather than desperately looking for it. If you've got great arms, by all means wear a sleeveless top, but keep the neck high for maximum impact and cover your legs. If you're wearing backless, keep the front high: if you're wearing a plunge front, keep the back high... The fact is: if you reveal your flesh, you are going to be compared with every 20-year-old who does the same - it is far better to leave people guessing about how gorgeous you are than to show them you're not.

3 Keep it simple

There's a good reason I've banged on endlessly in this blog about 'classic clothes', and that's because they work. And one key thing that differentiates classic clothes is that they have simple lines - their design is pared down to the essentials. Whatever you're wearing, seek simplicity and avoid exaggeration. Don't wear things with 25 colours and added bits of gewgaws all over them - contrasting appliques and heavy beading in clashing colours. Avoid big shoulders, poofy skirts, huge floppy collars and lapels, and weird sleeve designs. These don't do anyone any favours - even teenagers, but teenagers have a right to look stupid if they want to. Grown up girls need to raise the bar a little - aiming for elegance and class. Keeping it simple works with any type of clothing - blouses with small collars, t-shirts with scoop or v necks, blouses with clean French cuffs, pencil skirts, clean-lined jackets with vertical seaming....

Built-in blouse

4 Keep it clean

When I say clean, I do mean physically clean. Being scruffy is the prerogative of the young, the rich and the mad, but the rest of us have to conform a little even if we may not like it. Going out with chipped nail polish, undyed roots, a moustache or clothes covered in dog hair just screams middle-aged rut, and don't think that people won't notice because they will. Grown-up girls have to look groomed. Not polished necessarily, but soignée, as the French say - cared-for, put-together. A clean, crisp, groomed appearance always works, no matter what your lifestyle.

Yes, it takes a little application, but the effort repays itself a hundred-fold. Choose a haircut that you can maintain easily (or pay to have maintained). Keep your clothes clean (if you can't afford or don't wish to undertake dry cleaning, buy clothes you can wash at home). Do running repairs once a month - sewing buttons back on and taking your shoes for re-heeling. Iron things properly and treat stains before they set. Overall, treat your clothing as if it cost ten times the price.

Linen tunic

5 Keep it quality

Quality wears better than rubbish, and whatever the item, quality cloth, cut and finish will show. Buy quality items wherever you can, even for basics - pima cotton t-shirts, Egyptian cotton blouses, cashmere and merino knitwear in plain colours, decent wool-rich suiting (a little stretch here can work wonders), a fantastic pair of jeans with the outside seam brought slightly forward to slim your thighs, and correct pocket placement. Watch out for the sales and stock up on basics from good manufacturers. It is better to have a smaller wardrobe of quality items than a large wardrobe of tat - the age of 40 is a good signal to upgrade your choice of fabric and cut.

When I say quality, this is quality at every level, so if you're strapped for cash, go for the best of a type. Rather than buying low-end fakes of high-end items, look for high-end democratic items at a lower price level. Instead of tinny gold-plate jewellery, buy handmade wooden beads; instead of a plastic leather-look handbag, buy a good-quality canvas bag; if you can't afford cashmere, buy merino on sale rather than a cheap acrylic sweater. In the long run, it will pay dividends.

Capsule wardrobe

Every woman needs a firm foundation to her wardrobe.

The very idea of a capsule wardrobe might make some women cringe because shopping and clothes buying are such great pleasures that being resolutely practical about everything takes all the shine off it. But I'm a firm believer that clothes, like your home, are only a setting for the life you live - not the be-all and end-all. A girl needs a wardrobe that functions above all else - a kind of uniform that allows you to just get dressed and get on with your life.

The way a capsule wardrobe works is this: you work out a key number of items without which you really can't manage, and which all go together. This is like the trunk of a tree, and the rest of your wardrobe is then like branches, large or small, coming off in all directions. It's that simple.

Another analogy is to think of it like a family. Your core wardrobe is your nuclear family and your other clothes are your extended family - all related to one another, in varying degrees, and with some of them forming different relationships along the way. But the key fact is just that - everyone is related to everyone else. Within reason, all of your garments should go together with several other things in your wardrobe (the near-exception is dresses, which only need to go with shoes). 

Creating a core wardrobe needn't be boring, but what it does require is a realistic understanding of who you are and how you live your life.

One quick way to get a grip on this is to imagine that you've been burgled, or that your house has burned down and you've lost every stitch of clothing you own. In real life, this would be very bad news, but the good bit, since this is imaginary, is that you can now imagine that you now have X amount of insurance money to spend on replacing everything.

The thing that happens at this point is that you quickly realise that you have to focus on the stuff you need (rather than the stuff you want), and that this is very basic: enough knickers to get through a week and that don't show through your clothes; a bra that goes with all your tops; tights or socks; boots or shoes with an everyday heel; a pair of trousers or a skirt; some t-shirts and/or blouses; a knit that goes with everything; a coat that keeps the wind and rain out; a hat/scarf/gloves if you wear them. That's a basic kit. During the Second World War, incidentally, that was all the coupons you got annually - enough to buy one whole outfit per year.

In our imaginary scenario, only once you'd built up your basic capsule wardrobe would you then ring the changes, and the extent to which you could do so would depend on the size of your insurance payout.

The first thing you'd probably want, once you got the money, would be multiples of the same, especially things that get soiled easily, and more skirts and trousers, because after all, one lower-half garment isn't going to last you for very long. You'd need to focus on clothes that gave you the maximum amount of wear; that would be smart enough for work but casual enough for private life; would layer without creating bulk; would cover more than one season; and above all, which would all go with one another to form cohesive outfits.

Only after this, and if your payment was big enough, would you really start to branch out, buying the clothes that don't layer, that only suit one season, that don't go with anything else, or that only go with one other thing. That's the fun stuff - the pretty clothes, the party clothes, the dresses, the sexy shoes.

The problem for most of us is that's where we're starting out from - with a wardrobe full of items that we bought because they were lovely and gorgeous, and we liked them, and maybe even because they suited us, but which just don't fit with everything else we own. The result, for many women, is an overcrowded unorganised mess of clothes, 80 per cent of which (according to wardrobe organisers) we don't wear, and only 20 per cent of which actually get used.

So, in all seriousness, if you had to build this capsule wardrobe from scratch, what items would you choose? Remember, you have to imagine that you'll be wearing these clothes and no others for at least the next few weeks.

My guess would be that at this point, the colour would drain right out of most women's wardrobes and the average girl would end up in black or navy or dark brown. Something like 72 per cent of the women's clothes sold in the UK annually are black, and with very good reason. The average girl would also probably end up in clothing with some stretch, so that it would go both under and over other items. She'd need things that would do double-duty for home and work and leisure, so no outrageous styles. She'd need to be comfortable in changeable weather, so fabrics would need to be medium-weight - things like merino or cotton knitwear, brushed cotton and cotton jersey would suddenly become worth their weight in gold. Long sleeves would be more useful than short.

This, in reality, is how we should all approach our wardrobes all of the time - with some sense of purpose, some understanding of functionality, but we so often fail to do so.

As it happens, I live a pretty casual life, for which I need comfortable, hard-wearing clothing that is also reasonable attractive. I have no need to be smart, though I do like to look 'nice', and there's no point in buying expensive things when I'm surrounded by animals, woodburners and mud. So my choice would be:

* flesh-coloured t-shirt bra by Spiedel with padded straps and slings in the cups. It goes with everything and is incredibly comfortable. My Ahh bras don't quite cut it because they don't give me enough uplift in public, though I'm happy to let the girls find their own level when I'm at home. 

* half a dozen pairs of knickers in white or nude cotton from M&S. 

* white linen, fitted Austin Reed shirt - crisp and clean for under or over other items.

* black wool shift dress from M&S - totally dateless and can be dressed up or down with cardis, sweaters, blouses and belts. This is my smart frock. 

* navy leather and suede loafers from Lands' End - flat, easy to walk in, they go with jeans and all my trousers and are just about passable with a casual skirt. 

* navy canvas and leather ballet pumps from Lands' End.  

* navy cotton jersey pull-on pants from Lands' End - so comfortable I can even do my yoga in them. My favourite used to be my dark brown moleskin bootcut trousers from Boden (which could have been designed on me, they fitted so well) but dammit, they discontinued them. 

* navy cotton chinos from Boden. Love the floral inside to the waistband, the roomy pockets and the fact that they always look smart. If I get another choice, I'll take a grey pair too. 

* navy and black Kiwi trousers from Craghoppers - the best-designed, most practical trouser ever invented.  In fact, if I had to choose one pair of trews, these would be the ones: waterproof peachskin polyester, practically indestructible, reinforced heels and knees, elasticated waist, and eight pockets, including security pockets. My DH now wears virtually nothing else because nothing else cuts the mustard. 

* v-neck and crewneck long-sleeve t-shirts in black, white and stripes. I have a range of makes, from H&M (before I boycotted them) but my best one is from Armorlux, which makes the thickest, softest tees known to humankind. 

* black and white organic cotton vests from Lidl.  

blog image * grey cashmere boyfriend cardigan from La Redoute (cardis are more flexible than sweaters). I bought this in 2008 and have worn it TO DEATH. The elusive perfect cardigan, I have bought near-misses over and again ever since. I only wish I had another couple in - say - black and navy. 

* grey crewneck cashmere sweater and v-neck grey cashmere sweater (from Lands' End and M&S respectively). Good weights for under and over other layers and the soft colour goes with everything.  

* grey cashmere scarf from Harrods, which I've had since I was at college.  

* navy Burberry polocoat with zip-out lining (covers all four seasons).

* hand-knitted greige cable wool beanie made by a local lady and dark brown fur-lined leather gloves from Liberty.

* pale blue pashmina and alpaca cream/red and blue paisley pashmina, both gifts from my sister.  

* black pull-on suedette stiletto-heeled boots.  

Other women would doubtless have different lists - perhaps a smart suit for work, or good tights. But making a short list of - say, 20 items, will tell you a lot about yourself and your life, and a lot about how much useless crap you still have in your wardrobe. 

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